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Business Management

Snapshot: Despite Challenges, Middle East Offers World of Opportunity

The news that the Syrian Electronic Army compromised Skype and attacked other services will provide yet another opportunity for the media to portray the country in negative ways, but at the beginning of a new year it might be interesting to look at Syria and the broader Middle East from another angle.

Syria is a fascinating country, rich in culture, the arts and science and still fully capable of producing bright people, as is virtually any country. In technology media reporting, there is too often a tendency to think of the computer, software, services and internet industries as largely US phenomena. That’s understandable up to a point as so many of the biggest names in tech have come from America and many of them hail from a relatively small part of California, but a more interesting perspective comes in a book I have been reading recently.

Startup Rising by Christopher Schroeder is an informative examination of how technology entrepreneurialism is changing the Middle East from Dubai to Cairo, Amman to Beirut and from Istanbul to, yes, Damascus. It’s likely that this work will do for the Middle East something analogous to what Startup Nation did for Israel: provide a primer for readers seeking to understand opportunities from, and into, the area, demolishing received wisdom and lazy assumptions along the way.

The book describes a thriving startup scene and an area drawing in some of the biggest names of the technology world. Some of its findings might surprise those that haven’t explored the region: startup gatherings attract about a 40% female audience. Of course there are challenges of many kinds, political, legal and cultural among them, and it’s important not to generalise across a region that is home to hundreds of millions of people. But Startup Rising is interesting because it proposes a very different view of the Middle East than that peddled in the mainstream Western media. It describes the complex backdrop to today’s Middle East quite well but it is most interesting when describing its present and suggesting its future. 

I’d urge anybody with an interest in the Middle East and how technology can be a catalyst for change to read this book. But, spoiler warning, I should tell you that its big reveal is that the people there are ambitious, entrepreneurial and full of confidence and spirit. Think about that the next time you read a doom-and-gloom story; the fact is that, even in the most troubled countries, technology and modern communications permit people to learn, heal, share and prosper.

Schroeder is not alone in seeing a world of, often technology-enabled, opportunity rather than one focused on a narrow sliver of the Western coast of the United States. Next week, the banker Jim O’Neill begins his series of programmes on BBC Radio called MINT: the Next Economic Giants, proposing the notion that Morocco, India, Nigeria and Turkey can become the next wave of prosperous nations.

You might be sceptical, of course, but then O’Neill also coined the term BRICS well before the full flowering of the new Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. I wonder what happened to those countries…

 

Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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